Sideline Slants

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
Once upon a time a team was picked to win its conference championship. As many expected, the team was in first place in early February.

You say that doesn’t sound like much of a fairy tale script? You say that favorites are supposed to win?

Normally, you’d be right. But in this case, you’d be wrong. Tabor’s annual run at another KCAC men’s basketball championship is not simply business as usual. In fact, it’s nothing short of remarkable.

Don’t get me wrong. Tabor was rightly picked as the team to beat in the KCAC by coaches and media in the pre-season poll. It was downright logical. The Bluejays returned a number of key players from last year’s national tournament team, including one of the best, if not the best all-around player in the conference, Micah Ratzlaff.

Ah, but the Tabor team picked to win the conference is not the team Coach Don Brubacher envisioned having on the floor. For one thing, and it’s a big one, Ratzlaff has been sidelined with an injury and missed the entire conference season.

Tabor often struggles against bigger schools in non-conference games, but the team struggled big time this year. In November and December the team was either being blown out or losing games they normally win. KCAC opponents had to believe that Tabor was vulnerable.

Somehow, some way, Tabor won most of its close games early in the conference schedule. The wins weren’t always pretty, but they were wins nonetheless. Winning five of the first six conference road games was remarkable and catapulted Tabor into a position to compete for another championship.

This season is even more remarkable considering that in addition to Ratzlaff, Tabor lost one of its most reliable inside players, Lance Redetzke, to an injury for much of the season. Tabor’s size wasn’t going to scare opponents anyway, so losing another key player from last year’s team could have been devastating.

So what happened? Forgive the clich?, but other players stepped up and the team slowly but surely improved.

Hillsboro High School is not a farm club for Tabor, but the former Trojans are doing just fine in college. Coach Brubacher often plays three or four former Trojans simultaneously. If Micah Ratzlaff was healthy, Brubacher could legitimately have five former HHS players on the court at once.

Micah’s brother, Tyson, has been remarkable. In fact, you could make a case that Tyson, who recently earned national honors as a wide receiver in football, may be one of the best all-around athletes in Tabor history.

That’s saying a lot, considering he’s only a sophomore.

Of course there’s plenty of credit to go around, and I know I won’t mention everyone. But Scott Brubacher, Jimmy Janzen, Jeremiah Randall, and more recently, Grant Brubacher, are among those making significant contributions.

While this team has talent, other Tabor teams have had more. It’s certainly not a physically imposing lineup, but few Tabor teams have improved as much from November to February as this team.

When a team is able to overcome so much adversity, it has a coach who makes a difference. Coach Brubacher can teach basketball as well as anyone.

He’s a serious student of the game, and he consistently finds players who are students of the game and buy into his system as well.

Years ago, a former Friends University basketball player told me he could never figure out why Tabor was so hard to beat, but he knew the coach had something to do with it.

Tabor has stumbled recently and maybe they’ll come up short. Even if they qualify for the national tournament, their stay likely will be brief.

Then again, who knows? After all, the fairy tale is still being written.

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